Doing Nothing as a Policy Instrument

… a core concept used in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107

Concept description

Leslie Pal (reference below) describes when doing nothing may be the appropriate policy response.

Pal writes (p. 137-139):

“Doing nothing may appear as a nondecision, which indeed it is if it has no rationale beyond either ennui or a simple desire to remain unengaged. …however, a deliberate choice not to intervene, made after an analysis of the problem, should be considered a policy decision – what we will call here “static response.” There can be several good rationales for declining to intervene. Together, they comprise a coherent set of considerations that should be part of any systematic process of instrument choice, even though doing nothing does not seem intuitively to fit the notion of an instrument or tool. The four rationales that follow presume that a potential problem or opportunity has presented itself to policymakers in some fashion and that a careful analysis was undertaken about the nature of the problem and the appropriate response.

  1. Problem-related rationales: The analysis indicates that there is either no problem after all or a problem not within the government’s current priorities, jurisdiction, or capacities. …
  2. Resource-related rationales: The analysis indicates that there is indeed a problem and that it falls within the government’s general priorities and jurisdiction. Nonetheless, given resource constraints and other more pressing demands, the government cannot allocate resources for the problem. …
  3. Precedent-related rationales: A problem exists, but the analysis raises the concern that a policy intervention might set a precedent that could place unmanageable demands on government. …
  4. Self-corrective system rationales: In this case, while it is accepted that there may be a problem, it is also assumed that there is a coherent system (e.g., social, cultural, religious, economic, even natural) at work that, over time, may correct it spontaneously, without the need for government intervention.”

See also: Pal’s Classification of Policy Instruments.

Atlas topic, subject, and course

Designing the Delivery Model (core topic) in Implementation and Delivery and Atlas107.


Leslie Pal (2014), Beyond Policy Analysis – Public Issue Management in Turbulent Times, Fifth Edition, Nelson Education, Toronto. See Beyond Policy Analysis – Book Highlights.

Vedung, E. (1998). Policy instruments: Typologies and theories. In M.-L. Bemelmans-Videc, R. C. Rist, & E. Vedung (Eds.), Carrots, sticks and sermons: Policy instruments and their evaluation (pp. 21–58). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Vedung, E., & van der Doelen, F. C. J. (1998). The sermon: Information programs in the public policy process—Choice, effects, and evaluation. In M.-L. Bemelmans-Videc, R. C. Rist, & E. Vedung (Eds.), Carrots, sticks and sermons: Policy instruments and their evaluation (pp. 103–128). New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 12 April 2017.

Image: MicroExplosionMedia, The Value of Doing Nothing, at, accessed 12 April 2017.